Faded Glory, by David Essex
Picture credit: hellomagazine.com
This is the first novel by David Essex (yes: that one!), although it is his fourth book; his first two were autobiographies, A Charmed Life, and Over the Moon, which, assuming they weren’t ghost-written, allowed him to figuratively dip a toe into the water of writing, and this neophyte effort was published in the UK in 2016 by Head of Zeus Ltd. It is set in the 1950s, and it is the story of a young man by the name of Danny Watson, who is still in his teens, but he has fallen in with a crowd of tearaways, and after an encounter in a London park with an old gentleman where the latter is bullied, he feels guilty and has cause to reconsider his lifestyle. The old man, Albert Kemp, is an ex-boxing champion, but he is on his own, so after helping Danny out when his bicycle needs repairing, he takes him under his wing, in the hope that Danny can shake off his reprobate past and embrace amateur boxing as a way to build character as well as strength, to keep himself on the straight & narrow.
Danny trains hard under the tutelage of Albert and the owner of the local gym, an Irishman called Patsy, and is achieving some initial success as an amateur fighter, when he is approached by two Flash Harrys who call themselves boxing promoters and tempt him with potential riches as a professional fighter. Albert is instantly suspicious, but by this time, Danny has a regular girlfriend, whom he has known for several years and, although she is not keen on the idea of the potential for injury to Danny if he continues boxing, especially with tougher opponents, she acknowledges that the money he is convinced he can win will enable them to settle down into a conventional lifestyle of mortgage, thereby escaping Danny’s impoverished single-parent upbringing in the grim East End, and children. Inevitably, things don’t go quite to plan, but Danny’s discovery that he & Albert have a previously unknown connection reaching back into both their pasts enables them both to fight back against the odds, with the help of Patsy, who is initially persuaded by the two wide boys but eventually allows Albert to talk sense into him, and a loveable Jamaican immigrant called “Black” Lenny, who now owns a car repair business, conveniently located under the local railway arches, and can also be relied upon to provide motor transport when required (although he refuses to wear a chauffeur’s cap!).
I really wanted to like this book, because I have great respect and some affection for David Essex, having worked with him briefly when I was a supporting artist on Yorkshire Television’s Heartbeat, and in that episode, David was, inevitably, the guest star, playing to type as a Gipsy; the loveable rogue. However, although the two main characters in this story were reasonably credible, the jeopardy presented by the two professional promoters, Costa & Cohen, was underplayed I feel; this was the timeframe & the stamping ground of genuinely fearsome real-life villains like the Krays and the Richardsons; so even if Essex didn’t want to use real characters, even if only peripherally, their influence & the resultant climate of fear could have been at least alluded to in this narrative, and used to make the antagonists more believably threatening. Perhaps Essex didn’t want to make his first novel too gritty (maybe even with a view to Sunday evening prime-time television serialisation?), but in so doing, he’s left this reader, at least, slightly disappointed; still, all being well, he should be able to use the experience from writing this book to produce another work with more depth: if nothing else, the writing can be a good fallback from acting & singing if his career should happen to be in the doldrums, but I’m sure there will be plenty, including me, who would be happy to see him on screen, both large & small, again in the future. Overall, this is an easy read, so you might enjoy it.
Postscript: When I had finished writing this review, I looked online for suitable images to choose from to head it up, and I discovered that a film of the book has been made with, surprise surprise: David Essex in the rôle of Albert Kemp, and a lad with the family name of Essex in the rôle of Danny, so I presume he must be David’s own grandson. There was a link to the website of the Director of Photography, so I had a look and found a contact email, to check that, although the film is declared to be in post production, I was not in danger of pre-empting a release; I have checked on the official David Essex website and, although the book is listed, there is no mention of the film, so perhaps the release is being delayed for whatever reason; unfortunately, I have to report that I have not received a reply from the DoP after three weeks, so I have decided to publish the post anyway, and I hope that the post is seen as good publicity for the film, which has every chance of being more captivating than the book: perhaps the grit I felt was lacking in the book has been injected into the film?